On July 28, 1914, 100 years ago today, the war to end all wars began. A century ago war was declared on Serbia by the Austro-Hungarian Empire following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Ferdinand was the heir apparent to Emperor Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary and the declaration of war was retaliation against Serbia.
Soon after war was declared Serbia received support from Russia while the Germans moved to defend Austria. These moves eventually grew on both sides and throughout Europe, growing into the First World War. The four-year war drew in many of the world’s powers of the time and resulted in 9 million deaths.
The number killed in World War I affected many around the world, and more were touched by what came after the war. After the war ended with an allied victory, the face of Europe change drastically. Empires that had dominated the region disappeared and some countries regained independence while other countries were born.
The question of whether this could happen again has risen 100 years after the beginning of the war to end all wars. The ongoing unrest in the Gaza Strip, Middle East combined with the downing of the Malaysian airliner over the Ukraine and numerous areas of unrest throughout the world seems to fuel this question. Roger Cohen, a columnist for the New York Times, believes it could happen.
An article Cohen wrote for a commemorative issue of the Atlantic points to the similarities in how World War I began and the conflict currently taking place between Russia and the Ukraine. Cohen points out that if a rebellion by the Russian minority in Estonia was to take place at the same time China attempts to make a claim on uninhabited islands belonging to Japan the situation could spiral out of control, resulting in a worldwide conflict.
The world, however, has something at its disposal that has so far prevented a worldwide conflict that was not available to deter the start of World War I. The world’s nuclear arsenal has, to date, prevented a third world war. The prospect of global annihilation held strong during the Cold War era. While the United States and Russia still hold most of the world’s nuclear deterrents, other countries have moved closer to or into nuclear capabilities. The threat of a global nuclear holocaust is a serious fear that many of the world’s leaders do not take lightly.
Today, the chance that a conflict could spiral into a chain of events similar to the ones 100 years ago that led to the war to end all wars, however unlikely, still presents itself. A world war in the 21st century could carry the destructive ability to wipe out the world’s population. Most world leaders do not want to start a series of events that may lead to the end of civilization, and work with each other to prevent just that. However, it appears it is not enough to stop some countries from pushing limits in an attempt to take control of neighboring regions, regain land believed to be theirs, or remove people that they deem a threat to their way of life. While these power and land grabs continue, world leaders will continue to keep a watchful eye in hopes of avoiding another war to end all wars.
By Carl Auer